The Island, Not Gamal
Most chronic Caribbean visitors extol the virtues of their favorite hide-away. Their undiscovered spot in the predictable sun that suits their particular fancy -- be it a shopper’s paradise, an eco-wonderworld, or simply a spit of powdery sand where one might lay his body down. Grand Turk is such a spot, especially for those on the trail of whopping big rays and a kaleidoscope of undersea creatures. Think beach beach beach and you’ve come to the right spot. In fact, there are 230 miles of white, sandy beaches so you surely won’t be jammed cheek to jowl with a guy in pink Speedos from Poughkeepsie.
Grand Turk is but one of the 30 islands covering 166 square miles that make up the group known as the Turks and Caicos Islands. All the amenities and the fewer than 20,000 inhabitants are clustered on the eight islands of the group that are inhabited. The whole lot is found due east from Cuba and just north of Hispaniola (that island of Haiti / Dominican Republic fame), and 575 miles southeast of Miami.
Grand Turk, home to 3,720 “Belongers” as the islanders like to be called, is east of the Caicos Islands just across a body of water known as the Turks Island Passage. Yachties and sportsfishermen are quite familiar with this destination.
Since the year 1766, these islands have been under British rule, officially becoming a crown colony in 1973. Today, she’s known as a “British overseas territory.” Her flag sports the British Blue Ensign with the colony’s arms, or shield, shown on the “fly.” This yellow shield features three images – a Turk’s Head cactus, unique to the islands; a spiny lobster representing an important island industry; and a queen conch shell that served as a form of currency long, long ago.
The main languages of the islands are English and French Creole. The majority of the local people practice Christianity. And, though the bulk of the landscape is flat with a type of scrubby vegetation covering the local limestone, there are also patches of swamps and marshes. The land itself is not terribly fertile though heartier crops such as beans, citrus, and cassava are cultivated. The economic base for this small island nation is a combination of tourism and fishing with the offer of offshore financial services for those in need of such things.
One Of The Top Five!
Grand Turk made the cut. It has been declared by that tight-knit group of those in the know as one of the top five dive sites in the Caribbean Atlantic… and that’s saying something. So, what’s so great about these waters, you ask. In a word, the reef (OK, two words). The local maze of coral reefs form the third largest barrier reef in the world. One portion, appropriately called “The Wall”, drops off a whopping 7,000 feet down. For divers and snorkelers alike, this is Heaven, Nirvana, you name it. And for those who don’t want to get their hair wet, some of the waters between the reefs and the shore (a mere 50 yards or so) are only waist deep allowing you to bend over with a mask and take it a colorful sampling of what the others might see. And what might they see?
Rays. Stingrays, to be exact. They’re the headliners for the underwater odyssey, so have your waterproof cameras at the ready. You might need photographic proof for your doubting friends back home.
A Stroll In Town
Salt water not your cup of tea? Never mind. There’s an easy stroll in store for you. Cockburn Town is the administrative capital as well as the cultural and historical center of the islands. Some historians will speculate that Columbus even set foot here while discovering the New World in 1492. As you wander, you’ll note the Bermudian and Colonial architecture representative of the 18th and 19th centuries. Be sure to include Duke Street and Front Street for they feature structures from the “salt era.” Ask a local to point you toward the Lighthouse, Fire Hill, or Hawks Nest Anchorage, all local points of interest.
And birders might like to catch a glimpse of one of the many ospreys that call this island home. Those interested in a sampling of local fare might order up a plate of sizzling fresh fish served with rice and peas, a local favorite. Well, all too soon it’ll be time to make your way back to the ship and cast the lines from Grand Turk Island.